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In Which Writing Is Fun

Princess Alethea, Jan 2014I’ve been teaching a teen writing class at the Rust Library for four weeks — tonight is the last class, and I have to say, I’m going to miss it! But to be honest, I think these young folks are ready to write and submit their own stories…the only challenge for them will be focusing enough to GET IT DONE.

(You hear me, guys? Stop procrastinating and do it, already!!!)

Last week we did a fun writing exercise where each person wrote a sentence (or two) and then passed it to the next person at the table. There were only six of us (yay, more snow and ice…what is it about Wednesdays in February this year?) so it only took about 20 minutes and didn’t get too out of control. At the end, we read all the stories aloud…and they were AWESOME!

So awesome, in fact, that everyone decided that I should put them up here on the site to share our awesomeness with the world. Evil shadows, vomiting butterflies and tiny ninjas: THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT, PEOPLE. (Also, we’ve sort of been calling our group “The Tiny Ninjas” for a couple of weeks now.)

Enjoy…and remember, smiles and comments are greatly appreciated! xox

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Story #1 (aka “The Shadow Killer”)

What people don’t seem to realize is that I’m not a mindless killer–I pick my victims carefully. The patterns just seem to elude the cops. I have killed many. I run away into the shadows. I run as fast as I can from the murderous shadows, which will most likely kill me if I look away. For I am a shadow. These are my brothers. And our goal is to make sure no one is left alive in the light.

The light is our greatest enemy, the light and those who carry it. They are the only ones who can stop us, and they are my favorite targets. Light can illuminate, but it is oh, so east to burn. And the smoke that rises from the fire? That’s me. So watch your step. And the next time you hear the siren, see the plume of smoke rising above the rooftops, know that you’re next.

Why else would I let you read this?

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Story #2 (aka “Cloudy With a Chance of Potatoes”)

Potatoes fell from the sky when all hell broke loose. It made mountains of potatoes, which I plan to swim in with a cup of gravy. Swimming is all gravy is good for anyway–I mean, I’m a vegetarian. But what else are you going to do with crazy weather like this?

There are too many potatoes to actually eat, even taking into account all of the people in the world. It’s difficult to swim in them, though, what with their solidity; it’s far easier when they’re mashed and even then, it’s difficult.

Yesterday it was pickled herring, though, and I’m not about to complain that it’s now potatoes. But I suppose it would have been nicer if that hadn’t also been the day the house collapsed.

I just can’t believe this all started with a face-down penny.

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Story #3 (aka “Secret Agent Cat”)

I couldn’t understand a word of what she said, but she was undoubtedly angry. Curled on the floor like a question mark, she yowled at me in her native Cat, hair bristling on end.

“Listen, if you aren’t going to cooperate, we can…be more persuasive,” I growled.

Having abducted the feline from the NSA, I was convinced she was more than normal. My guess was that she originally ruled the internet and was taken out during the censorship phase. But now…I don’t know what to think. I wouldn’t know what to think…I think I might die in a hole.

“That would be me, being persuasive,” said the cat, in perfect French. “You have a very simple mind for a human. Now, if we could please get on with the experiment.”

I was happy to do so. I was happier that I now understood French. I would have been even happier if I understood Cat. That was half the point of this, after all. But hey, I’d take what I could get.

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Story #4 (aka: “Sci-Fi Butterfly Sick”)

The iron butterfly vomited on my bicycle. Again. The first time the metal insect showed up. I’d been half terrified, but by now I was used to it. Every Tuesday evening, without fail, it would perch itself on my handlebar and then…barf. This time I was determined to stop it, for good or bad.

I read in a history book that there used to be real, live butterflies, but now…just the government’s failed experiments. There seem to be more and more failures nowadays. I dreamt a butterfly did not vomit on my bike but screw that; I should genetically modify. I just need to let it go.

What, you may ask? My obsession with butterflies. But even that won’t stop there from being thousands of mutant, barfing butterflies. Perhaps I should just buy an umbrella. Or a gun.

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Story #5 (aka: “The Dangers of Falling Deathfully”)

Don’t fall too hard when you die. Of course, if you forget to fall, sometimes that’s worse. You could end up dead, just floating in the ether, with no particular direction. That’s what happened to me, and it’s the reason I’m still around to tell you this.

People who believe in ghosts usually think they stayed behind on purpose–“unfinished business,” they say, in ethereal tones. But really, it all comes down to one question, and that question is: “When you died, were you vertical or horizontal?”

I was vertical. And I didn’t fall, just sort of…stayed. It’s hard to fall over when you’re tied to a chair. Of course, my head sorta slid to one side, so I can’t hear very well with my left ear, bit I make do with what I have.

I made do…I just kept swimming.

This was all a metaphor for my love of imagining death. Who doesn’t fantasize about death?

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stealth elfStory #6 (aka “Beware Small Ninjas”)

Becoming a small ninja wasn’t my first career choice. Actually, it was my third. But since roof-painting and photography both failed, I didn’t have anything to go with but the letter in the mail.

It was from someone called “The Lead Ninja.”

He sent me photos of a beautiful place, with seemingly no one “playing chess” or “sparring with swords.” I felt like a freking Girl Scout on my first day when I said, “Hi, I’m Bob! I would like to be a small ninja.”

“Screw you!” the Lead Ninja responded.

I tapped him in the head with a flying sidekick. When he picked himself up off the ground, he shook my hand. “Welcome to the Palace.” Then he sent me off to get settled in before I began my training–which was nothing like anything I’d expected.

Unfortunately, I can’t talk about training due to the confidentiality agreement I signed. Suffice it to say that I’m a certified small ninja.

And I am coming for you.

 

 

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Four Fathers

Dos Equis is so wrong: my father, George Kontis, is the most interesting man in the world. He’s great at parties and can talk to anyone. He speaks a little bit of every language on the planet. He tells the best jokes. He gives a tiara manly swagger. And he is the best storyteller EVER.

Papa Woodcutter was a very easy character to write.

I invited Mom to the website for Mothers’ Day, so in fairness I had Dad contribute a guest post to my blog about whatever he wanted for Fathers’ Day. I’ve been busy with this small thing called a book tour, so I didn’t even have a chance to read the essay he sent me before this morning. I just finished reading it. And I cried.

These stories are not about me or my father–they are about HIS father, and my great-grandfathers, amazing men I never had the privilege to know. I can only imagine how amazing they were…because I know exactly how amazing MY father is. (Yes, I come by it honestly. ALL of it.)

Love you, Daddy! xox

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Dear Alethea:
As Father’s Day approaches, I thought you might like to hear about Grandfathers and Great-Grandfathers that you never met. They were fascinating people. Self starters and hard chargers, yet at the same time dedicated to their families. Read on, and you might recognize some family traits….

Your great-grandfathers:

John Kontaridis

Your paternal great-grandfather, John Kontaridis, was barely 40 years old but was already successful entrepreneur, with three thriving businesses in the Greek Byzantine town of Smyrna, Turkey (now called Izmir). John married a beautiful Smyrna woman, Theodosia Komnenos, who happened to be a descendent of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos Komnenos. Ergo, dearest Princess Alethea, your title is more than self-proclaimed!

John Kontaridis also had an interest in medicine. In spite of his significant wealth, family demands, and no medical training, he found time to treat people with back pain. His highly regarded success in fixing backs was a family secret that was passed on to male members of the Kontaridis family. John treated Greeks, Turks, and Armenians from all walks of life, who lined up at his front door–usually on Sunday afternoons. In September 1922 the Turkish Army took him on a long hike that didn’t include food or water and John was killed when he tried to sneak a drink. His brother witnessed this event and many other atrocities, which are today denied by the Turks.

George Mitchell

Not able to make a living in his home country, your great-grandfather, George Mitchell (Mikelis) left his home high on a mountain top in Greece and immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island. At first he worked in an enameled pot factory until he could save up enough to open a candy kitchen and then a restaurant. He joined the U.S. Army in World War I, achieving the rank of sergeant, distinguishing himself in battles fought across France. At some point he got so sick the Army couldn’t care for him, so they left him in care of a French farm family. He was nursed back to health by the family, whose young daughter Blanche made him feel particularly healthy. Their daughter, Georgia was born in 1919. Georgia is your French connection. Our whole family has been trying to reconnect with any possible descendants. George was successful in business, well respected in the community, and a gourmet who appreciated good food. His neighborhood bar/restaurant was particularly successful. He saw World War II coming and bought a huge quantity of whiskey, thinking the time would come when it would not be readily available. He stored it at home in his basement in plain sight and within easy access of his five teenage children. Not one of them ever snuck any booze, and none of them ever drank much their entire lives. George was an avid hunter and provider, keeping the table supplied with game and healthy food. He died of a heart attack at age 50 brought on by smoking and the exertion from dragging a deer he’d shot.

Your paternal grandfather:

Soterios (Sotos) Kontis

In September 1922 while his father was on that hike with the Turkish Army, Sotos, age 4, was running from his burning house with his remaining family members. They eventually found safe passage to Athens Greece where they arrived safely, but penniless. Eventually, his older sister opened a ladies’ hat shop and Sotos was her delivery boy. Once she gave him a hat to deliver and enough trolley fare to get him there and back. When the conductor demanded extra money for the package he was carrying, Sotos knew would not have sufficient fare for the trip home. Sotos removed the frilly hat from the box, placed it on his head and wore it all the way into town. Sotos was resourceful in other ways. He made his own toys and enlisted his artistic brother in money making schemes and pranks. The two boys started a church. Sotos was the priest and his brother Xanthos the artist who painted the icons. The boys charged the other neighborhood kids to light candles and kiss the icons. It was a successful enterprise until their mother found out. Sotos served in the Greek merchant marine during much of World War II and finally illegally immigrated into the US when his ship reached New York. He joined the US Army, learned English, and became an Officer.

Sotos loved America. As chief engineer on a U.S. missile tracking ship, he traveled often to Africa on tracking missions and sometimes stayed in a hotel in Durban, South Africa. Seated in the lobby one day, he was reading a paper and smoking his favorite blend of tobacco. A young South African man approached him, apologized profusely for interrupting, and asked if his blend was a secret mixture. “Oh, no!” said Sotos. “This is Mixture 79. It’s available everywhere in the U.S.” Sotos immediately tore some of his newspaper and emptied the contents of his tobacco pouch into it. He folded the paper around the tobacco and handed it to the young man. The young man instantly went for his wallet, in an obvious gesture to pay. Sotos said: “Oh, if you want to pay me, let me hear you say ‘God Bless America.'” Heads in the hotel lobby, filled with curiosity turned to hear a young South African exclaim: “God Bless America!”

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Stars AND Garters!

Those of you who plod away, day after day, typing out words and then churning them over and over into the submission/rejection machine will understand exactly what I’m talking about when I tell you about the awesome moment I had today: I was in the middle of printing and signing the contract for an anthology I had just been accepted to when I got the email notifying me of an acceptance to a SECOND anthology. It was a syzygy, a rare alignment of heavenly bodies, and yes, it totally made my day.

Even cooler is the fact that the two anthologies are both Pill Hill Press publications, so when I emailed Jessy Roberts back (whom I worked with on the Four Horsemen anthology that came out this spring) with the contract for Patented DNA, she asked me if I had received my contract for Zero Gravity yet…and I got to tell her I was doing a happy dance on my balcony. Hooray!

Even more coincidentally, both of these stories were penned during the strenuous and soul-crushing (it’s not good if it doesn’t crush your soul a little) Oregon Writers Workshop I attended two years ago with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Katherine Rusch. How you like them apples?

Yes, two years ago…these stories were fairly specific, and I’d been tossing them against various walls to see if they’d stick. Like most stories written on spec, they were simply looking for the right editor and the right home…I just had to not give up. (NEVER GIVE UP!!!) The key to stories like these is anthologies, most of which are usually based around a specific theme. You have to sit on duotrope or Ralan and wait around for the right one to come along (unless you plan on editing it yourself). It’s a lot like fishing. Cast out your line, lie back in the sun, and just relax. (Or, you know, write another story.)

Here are the two sales I have to report:

“The Way of the Restless” to Patented DNA, Edited by Jessy Marie Roberts — My mom watched “The Young and the Restless” when I was a baby. I knew Nikki and Victor like they were stepparents, and to this day hearing the “Nadia’s Theme” score makes me want to lie down for a nap. The way I figure it, the day that cloning gets legalized, the first people on board are going to be the Soap Operas (so the characters NEVER DIE), and Elvis fans. Cause seriously…how many women out there would still bear Elvis’s child if she could? Exactly. So my main character in this space opera is Elvis, a renegade rascal-for-hire, who gets mixed up in some crazy business that includes…well…everything but a twin brother and a secret baby. However, this is the first story written that includes Dot Stringer, Redneck Spacepilot….so there’s always room for more exciting chapters down the road. Release Date: August 2010

“The Unicorn Tree” to Zero Gravity, Edited by Alva J. Roberts (husband of the above Miss Jessy)– I said once that I was going to bring the unicorn back, and slowly but surely I’m making it happen. “Happy Thoughts” featured a unicorn named Wind, “The Giant and The Unicorn” was a clockwork Aesop’s Fable starring sentient wind-up toys, and I’ve got a fable out there making the rounds that hasn’t sold yet…but it will. “The Unicorn Tree” is another far-future story about a young woman who returns to the city where she was born, on a destroyed planet now occupied only by children. Outside this city is a tree whose pollen makes certain children who have not yet reached maturity hallucinate a unicorn. In her quest to rescue the children, Katie finds hope…and a little bit about herself. This is one of my favorite and more personal stories, and I am thrilled that’s it’s found a good home. Release Date: Late Summer 2011

Now…back to work!

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Dark Futures TOC

Nice!

“Black Hole Sun” by Alethea Kontis & Kelli Dunlap
“For Restful Death I Cry” by Geoffrey Girard
“Tasting Green Grass” by Elaine Blose
“Endangered” by Robby Sparks
“Nostalgia” by Gene O’Neill
“Beautiful Girl” by Angeline Hawkes
“Father’s Flesh, Mother’s Blood” by Aliette De Bodard
“Terra Tango 3″ by James Reilly
“Love Kills” by Gill Ainsworth
“Memories of Hope City” by Maggie Jamison
“Do You Want That in Blonde, Brunette, or Auburn” by Glenn Lewis Gillette
“Marketing Proposal” by Sarah M. Harvey
“The Monastery of the Seven Hands” by Natania Barron
“A Futile Gesture Toward Truth” by Paul Jessup
“Hydraulic” by Ekaterina Sedia
“Alien Spaces” by Deb Taber
“Virtual Babies” by Maurice Broaddus
“Personal Jesus” by Jennifer Pelland
“Meat World” by Michele Lee

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My Future’s So Dark, I’ve Gotta Have Faith

I happen to be in two Dark anthologies this year: Dark Faith and Dark Futures. For a Princess who tiptoes in rainbows and often answers to the name of “Sunshine,” I find this predicament rather ironical. And fun. Because Irony is always fun.

I’m still waiting on some direct ordering information for Dark Futures, but I’ve got some Dark Faith chewy goodness for you right here and now. Are you ready?

ATTENTION!!! THIS IS IMPORTANT! Pre-order now and receive the limited edition promotional chapbook Dark Faith: Last Rites that contains stories by Nate Southard, Bob Ford, Toiya K. Finley, and Sara M. Genge. Only 500 chapbooks will be produced!

Table of Contents: (a.k.a. Holy Crap There Are Some Awesome Folks In Here)

“The Story of Belief-Non” by Linda D. Addison (poem)
“Ghosts of New York” by Jennifer Pelland
“I Sing a New Psalm” by Brian Keene
“He Who Would Not Bow” by Wrath James White
“Zen and the Art of Gordon Dratch’s Damnation” by Douglas F. Warrick
“Go and Tell It on the Mountain” by Kyle S. Johnson
“Different from Other Nights” by Eliyanna Kaiser
“Lilith” by Rain Graves (poem)
“The Last Words of Dutch Schultz Jesus Christ” by Nick Mamatas
“To the Jerusalem Crater” by Lavie Tidhar
“Chimeras & Grotesqueries” by Matt Cardin
“You Dream” by Ekaterina Sedia
“Mother Urban’s Booke of Dayes” by Jay Lake
“The Mad Eyes of the Heron King” by Richard Dansky
“Paint Box, Puzzle Box” by D.T. Friedman
“A Loss For Words” by J. C. Hay
“Scrawl” by Tom Piccirilli
“C{her}ry Carvings” by Jennifer Baumgartner (poem)
“Good Enough” by Kelli Dunlap
“First Communions” by Geoffrey Girard
“The God of Last Moments” by Alethea Kontis
“Ring Road” by Mary Robinette Kowal
“The Unremembered” by Chesya Burke
“Desperata” by Lon Prater (poem)
“The Choir” by Lucien Soulban
“Days of Flaming Motorcycles” by Catherynne M. Valente
“Miz Ruthie Pays Her Respects” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Paranoia” by Kurt Dinan (poem)
“Hush” by Kelly Barnhill
“Sandboys” by Richard Wright
“For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer” by Gary A. Braunbeck

If you’d like to help me out spreading the word about Dark Faith, be sure to use this link: http://www.apexbookstore.com/products/dark-faith-edited-by-maurice-broaddus-and-jerry-gordon-kontis so Maurice knows that I sent you. I get like five cents for everyone who clicks on it and then buys the book. I’m trying to save up for a little red wagon (that I’m going to paint yellow). Please help me reach my goal!

Thanks! xox

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Don’t Forget!

There’s still time to vote for this!

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Click on over to the first annual Apex Magazine Story of the Year Award and cast your ballot.

I do have a story on the ballot — “Poor Man’s Roses”, which appeared in October.

Voting will continue through January 30th. The story receiving the most votes will be announced on February 1st. The author of the Apex Magazine Story of the Year will receive a trophy and the unique distinction of being the best Apex had to offer during 2009.

…and we thank you for your support.

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Story Sale: “Savage Planet” to THE FOUR HORSEMAN anthology

I am proud to announce my first original short story sale of the year (the “first sale” was technically a reprint for a 2011 Nightshade Books fairy tale anthology…more details on that later) — “Savage Planet” to Pill Hill Press’s anthology The Four Horsemen: An Anthology of Conquest, War, Famine & Death. My fun little spider-planet space opera falls under the category of “Conquest.”  The table of contents are:

Opening Story:

  • “A Pretty Lucky Day” by Camille Alexa

Conquest:

  • “The Chronicles of an Alien Invader” by Jason Toupence
  • “The God-King” by Scott M. Sandridge
  • “The Gunny” by Megan R. Englehardt
  • “Savage Planet” by Alethea Kontis
  • “Scorched Earth” by Matthew Dent
  • “Beware False Tribute” by Carla Joinson

War:

  • “Colorblind” by Jessy Marie Roberts
  • “Fire and Stone” by Jonathan Shipley
  • “The Battlefield” by Will Morton
  • “The Midnight Maiden” by Bill Ward
  • “Azieran: The Making of the Skullscron” by Christopher Heath
  • “Untitled” by Alva J. Roberts

Death:

  • “Fate’s Hand in Mortal Affairs” by Jamie Eyberg
  • “Superstition” by Laura Eno
  • “Clay’s Fire” by Kat Heckenbach
  • “The Ape” by Kelli A. Wilkins
  • “Judgment” by A.R. Norris
  • “Open Season” by John H. Dromey

Famine:

  • “Valley of the Ravens” by Scott Taylor
  • “The Onion Men” by Jacob Henry Orloff
  • “Bleeding Sky” by Marie Croke
  • “Borrowing Sugar” by Marshall Payne
  • “On a Black Horse” by L.E. Erickson
  • “Hot” by Nye Joell Hardy

Really looking forward to this one!

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The 2010 Award Pimpage Post

I’ve always found this brand of year-in-review post — typically done by my favorite authors in the first week of January — far more considerate and helpful than self-serving. I know who my favorite authors are and I’ve read their stories…but gods help me if I can remember when they were all published.

Plus, it’s nice to have all of this stuff compiled in one place. I only hope this post is as helpful to you as it has been for me.

Most of these are available to read for free on the internet — I encourage you to check them out. Just click on the story titles.

And hey…there’s always the Hugo for Best Fan Blog…

Best Short Story:

“A Poor Man’s Roses”Apex Magazine

“The Giant & The Unicorn” — Shimmer, Clockwork Jungle Issue

“The Monster & Mrs. Blake”The Story Station

“The Witch of Black Mountain” Harlan County Horrors (anthology)

“La Reine Rouge” — from my blog, for “Kill Brian Keene Day” (to benefit the Shirley Jackson Awards)


Best Graphic Story:

“Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome”Thaumatrope month-long Twitter serial, illustrated by J. K. Lee. The link will take you to a Picasa Gallery where you can view each day’s illustrations — the Tweets are below in the comments section. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to an online picture book, really.

Poetry:

“Rabbit in the Moon”Everyday Weirdness

Essays:

“Teen Angel, Dark”Weird Tales Growing Up Poe issue

“Here Lies an Era” — Apex Magazine

“The Still & The Storm” — Apex Magazine

…and of course, all the various and sundry ones from this blog. The highlights of which are probably “The Friendly Skies” and “Susan Boyle: It Takes One to Know One” Have you got a favorite from 2009?

Best Dramatic Presentation (short form):

Heeheeheehee…okay, maybe not. But I think that video I put together to apply for the job on that barrier island in Australia should at least get a shot, don’t you?

Podcasts:

“Foiled” — Alex Magazine

Interviews:

Lora Innes, Ken Scholes, Nick Mamatas, J. F. Lewis, David Macinnis Gill, C. C. Finlay, Diana Rowland, Alfred Martino, Leanna Hieber, Cherie Priest, Sarah Pinborough, Daniel Waters, Peter S. Beagle

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Apex Magazine Story of the Year Award

Apex needs your votes!

Click on over to the first annual Apex Magazine Story of the Year Award and cast your ballot. Yes, for those curious persons, I do have a story on the ballot — “Poor Man’s Roses”, which appeared in October.

Voting starts tonight and will continue through January 30th. The story receiving the most votes will be announced on February 1st. The author of the Apex Magazine Story of the Year will receive a trophy and the unique distinction of being the best Apex had to offer during 2009.

…and we thank you for your support.

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The Clockwork Jungle Book

I’m honored to be part of the newest issue of Shimmer magazine: The Clockwork Jungle Book. Inside are twenty fabulous steampunk fables by some of the hottest names in SF:

Shedding Skin; Or How the World Came to Be, by Jay Lake
The Jackdaw’s Wife, by Blake Hutchins
The Student and the Rats, by Jess Nevins
The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, by Shweta Narayan
Kay’s Box, by Marissa Lingen
Otto’s Elephant, by Vince Pendergast
The Monkey and the Butterfly, by Susannah Mandel
Message in a Bottle, by James Maxey
The Clockwork Cat’s Escape, by Gwynne Garfinkle
The Wolf and the Schoolmaster, by James L. Cambias
A Garden in Bloom, by Genevieve Valentine
And How His Audit Stands, by Lou Anders
The Story In Which Dog Dies, by Sara Genge
A Red One Cannot See, by Barbara A. Barnett
The Fishbowl, by Amal El-Mohtar
His Majesty’s Menagerie, by Chris Roberson
The Emperor’s Gift, by Rajan Khanna
The Clockwork Goat and the Smokestack Magi, by Peter M. Ball
The Giant and the Unicorn, by Alethea Kontis
Mockmouse, by Caleb Wilson

An excerpt from “The Giant & The Unicorn”:

In the beginning, the Toymaker fashioned the Box. In the second year, he scattered his power throughout the Box and made the heaves and the stars. In the third year he cast the cogs and wheels, the grasses and the trees. In the fourth year he formed the animals: the bear, the fox, the dragon, the griffin, the monkey, and the unicorn. In the fifth year he forged the Giant, in his own image, so that the Giant might rule and maintain peace over this great land. In the sixth year he uploaded Sentience and Symbiotics; he breathed life into his creations and set them free. He looked down upon his work and knew it was good.

In the seventh year, spent from his task, the Toymaker lay down and died…

Purchase your copy of The Clockwork Jungle Book in hard or electronic copy at the Shimmer website.

Also check out the fun interview I did with Anne for the issue! Find out which dead authors I would love to talk to, what authors I wish I could write like, things I wish for my characters, some writerly advice, and a whole section about things I do that no one ever asks about.

And soon there will be an audio version of the story available, read & acted by yours truly (I had SO MUCH FUN), so watch this space for more info!

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